Human rights abuses against indigenous people continue in Chile.
Despite the government’s professed openness to resolving the Mapuche conflict, human rights abuses against indigenous people continue in Chile.

Last week JosÈ Aylwin, co-director of the Observatory for Indigenous Rights (ODPI) and son of former president Patricio Aylwin, submitted a scathing letter to Interior Minister PÈrez Yoma detailing serious human rights abuses committed by the Carabineros police force against nine Mapuche detainees in the Region IX city of Ercilla. Aylwin’s letter, based on testimonies from the nine detainees, recounts in detail the police tactics he says “can be qualified as torture.”

The nine men were arrested early this month during a two-day public festival celebrating the anniversary of the city of Ercilla. Carabineros apprehended the men individually, claiming they were causing a disturbance. Aylwin cites witnesses who attest that the festival was a peaceful gathering with no motive of political or social agitation. The nine men maintain they were attending the festival for celebratory purposes only. They are now being held at the Collipulli commissioner’s office under charges of public disorder and attacking police officers.

Aylwin claims the arrests were “arbitrary detentions” and that Carabineros acted “without these men having done anything to warrant apprehension.” The police did not ask for identification when arresting the men nor did they offer reasons for the apprehension.

Even more disturbing, however, is the physical abuse endured by the Ercilla detainees. Four of the men, upon being taken to the commissioner’s office, were tied to posts and left there more than 13 hours in police custody while being interrogated and beaten by Carabineros. The report goes on to describe one detainee who had to get stitches on his head after a police officer beat him with the butt end of a gun.

In the letter, Aylwin asks PÈrez Yoma to investigate the Carabineros’ treatment of these and other Mapuche prisoners. He also sent a copy to Rodolfo Stavenhagen, special relater to the United Nations for human rights and indigenous liberties. Stavenhagen has been outspoken against the Chilean government’s indigenous rights policies.

In the meantime, Carabineros have upped police presence in this northern district of Region IX. Residents of Temucuicui, a Mapuche town located 12 kilometers from Ercilla, released a public declaration Tuesday describing a massive influx of special police forces in their small community of 120 families.

Temucuicui has been a focal point for conflict between Mapuche and the police forces that regularly patrol the area. Tuesday’s declaration denounces the unnecessary militarization of this small settlement, including the presence of helicopters, tanks, air planes, and an increased force of police officers decked in riot gear.

As human rights abuses continue in Ercilla, the Chilean government is still vacillating on the issue of how to resolve indigenous conflict. Government spokesperson Francisco Vidal said this week that Chile is open to visits from foreign observers to intervene in the Mapuche conflict. His comment puts an end to the government’s ongoing debate on the matter.

The issue arose last week when the United Nations, along with several international human rights organizations, sent a petition to President Michelle Bachelet requesting permission to intervene. Interior Minister Eduardo PÈrez Yoma responded to the request by saying that intervention from foreign observers would be “a welcome help for this problem.” His statement, however, spurred backlash from government spokesperson Augusto Prado, who insisted Friday that, “Chile doesn’t need other people to tell us how to solve our own problems” (ST, Feb. 11).

Vidal, in an attempt to smooth over the debate, concluded Monday that Chile’s government, as a democracy, maintains an open-door policy to any foreign organization that wants to visit Chile. He went on to say, however, that this does not constitute a formal invitation to these international groups.

Paulina Acevedo, spokesperson for ODPI, called Vidal’s statement a small but important step in approaching resolution. “The current conflict in the Mapuche community is the result of a prolonged lack of concern about indigenous rights, and only now is the government beginning to address that shortcoming,” she told the Santiago Times.

The Bachelet administration has also been weighing a proposal made by the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI) to create a Ministry of Indigenous Issues. Two weeks ago Bachelet nominated Rodgrigo EgaÒa as commissioner of indigenous issues. CONADI, however, wants the government to go one step further and create a more permanent office to
deal with the matter.

In a statement to the press Tuesday, Secretary General to the President JosÈ Antonio Viera-Gallo expressed interest in the proposal, but the government has yet to take any concrete measures to create the proposed ministry. (Ed. Note: Please see related feature story in today’s Santiago Times.)

By Alex Cacciari